The Ron Kane Files

Writing About Music

Friday, February 06, 2009

8-Track Tapes

2-6-09 8-Track Tapes

I remember the 8-Track tape very well. I first encountered it in approx. 1968, when my mother’s new car had an 8-Track tape player in it. We got an 8-Track tape of “Flowers” by The Rolling Stones, and mom drove around listening to that (she would’ve been almost 50 years old then). I think she liked Mick Jagger – maybe just his hair style of 1968? Or perhaps she thought that “Mother’s Little Helper” was amusing? Mom always liked the Stones.

It is a neat idea – a small loop of tape with numerous ‘tracks’ on it, where you can switch almost effortlessly to 4 different ‘programs’. OK, the sound quality wasn’t tops – but it was easier to handle than the reel-to-reel deck. And we had one in mom’s car. It didn’t take long before I (we?) talked my dad into buying a recording 8-Track machine – probably about 1970 or so. We may even have had another ‘home deck’ to play 8-Track tapes on – the forerunner of a ‘bookshelf stereo’. But the Panasonic recorder definitely got hooked into dad’s ‘hi-fi set-up’.

My first car came in ’76 or shortly thereafter – and I first went for 8-Track tapes instead of cassettes. After the 8-Track recorder quit functioning properly, we had moved on to Sony cassette decks in the house – TC-161SD! But for the car? 8-Track seemed like a good choice. I had even found some oddball 8-Track tapes: The Soft Machine, some Frank Zappa titles etc.

When the 8-Track started going away, it was possible to find them as “cut-outs” for $2 - $5 in record stores, towards the end of the 70’s. My first record store job, starting in ’76 – the 8-Track tape was still being stocked and sold at the hippie record store. In the early 80’s, when I changed jobs and worked for an early importer / exporter, I remember people asking us for 8-Tracks. Phil at Starship in Oklahoma asked us something like, “None of that Ryuichi Sakamoto comes on 8-Track, does it?”

Once of my friends got a great big American car used – in the mid-80’s. It had an in-dash 8-Track player. He asked, and it didn’t look possible to replace it with a then-popular cassette deck…so he offered to buy all of my weirdo 8-Track tapes off of me. I think I kept the Can one…and the Zappas…

But car cassette players weren’t all that amazing, either. If it was a reverse-able deck, you can bet one of the directions would no longer work, after a few years. And, for me, Sony Mini-disc replaced cassette (in my car) – until I got Mr. Suzuki last November – and I finally got a CD player in my car – familiar story – it’s “in-dash” and would cost a small fortune to get my MD put into Mr. Suzuki.

And Quad-8 tapes!!!

So, let’s remember the humble 8-Track tape. I bet people sell them to enthusiasts on eBay. I once sold some Quad-8 tapes to a guy in Japan (Isao Tomita, of course!).



Anonymous Jim Donato said...

I never really bought into 8-track too much. I was a vinyl snob as a youth; always buy the best quality "master." I only bought about a dozen pre-recorded cassettes (all tape only releases) ever. But my first stereo was an all-in-one from Sears ca. 1978; AM/FM, crappy turntable and cassette recorder with an 8-track player/recorder. Surely, all the stereo a 15 year old would ever need?

I never bought 8-Tracks, but made the occasional "mix 8-Track;" just because I could. There seemed to be something transgressive about recording New Wave music onto the 8-track format, which still reeked of Patchouli in 1979. That stereo lasted until about 1987 and well into the CD era! For the best 8-Track quality possible, you couldn't beat mastering from a CD source!!

The legendary Tom by then had a truly scary van of horrifying reputation. It might never get you to that concert (or back), but to its credit it had an 8-Track player! Hey, it was a van from the 70s… it was required by law!!! I took much perverse delight in making Tom mix cartridges for "8-Track Cruising In The Loooooo-ve Machine!!"

I recall a big hit was the French Vogue Best Of CD I had of Petula Clark - remastered onto the durable 8-Track format! That night we were headed to Ratona Beach to see The Bangles, the whole van was grooving to Pet… until the tire blew and we had our Scooby Doo adventure in Casadega, FL! Ho! What rollicking sport!!

Ironically, (and really, is there any other way?) after I ditched the starter stereo in the late 80s, I actually bought some 8-tracks - or actually my wife did at garage sales. So I now have two:

1. Kraftwerk: Ralf & Florian (on Vertigo!)
2. Link Wray: Live @ The Paradisio (On Passport) and friends, I made sure to get Mr. Wray to autograph that one when our paths crossed!!

I also still have a 1978 Paul Stanley solo cartridge (pressure pad intact!!) that I need to flog on e-bay.

So hoist a frosty flagon to the venerable 8-Track format! The only way to get your tunes on the road pre-1975!

9:24 AM  
Blogger Brian Ware said...

I have a "True Colours" 8 track. "Waiata" turned up on Ebay a few months ago but I passed. A&M was still doing them in 1981. I wonder what was the last LP released in that format?

What I really want is a "Mental Notes" 8 track....

3:20 PM  
Blogger chas_m said...

The one and only 8-Track I still own is Bowie's "Station to Station." I found it at a garage sale or some such and was so amused at the notion that I bought it.

My "8-track story" is that my mother had one of those all-in-one stereos that could record 8-track, and after my mom acquired some 78's I hit upon a use for that: I made a series of 8-tracks as "radio shows" for the residents of my mom's nursing home (she was the Nursing Director of a home in Atlanta).

I would record my intros at WRAS (Album 88, the still-great college station of GSU) on cassette, then bring them home and meticulously plan out the records so that nothing got "ka-CHUNKed" in the middle of a song (you 8-tracks KNOW whut I'm TALKIN' bout!!).

The first intro would be copied, 8-track stopped, the first record cued up, 8-track started ... repeat ... etc.

I don't recall how many of them I did, I think about four or so. They were BIG HITS with the residents of the nursing home, being full of stuff like early Ernest Tubbs/C&W and negro spirituals, even some blues!

Take THAT, King Biscuit Hour!

5:06 AM  
Anonymous Mega 8-tracks said...

Around 1981-1984 they were in cut-out bins for much cheaper, under $1 sometimes. You could get great titles. Soft Machine would have been quite a find!

As for selling the KISS solo tape on eBay, according to this page individual KISS 8-track tapes seem to sell for around $2-$5. Collectible but not exactly rare! Good luck.

4:53 AM  
Anonymous Eric - said...

Thanks Ron for the CAN Stereo 8. The band sounds amazing on tape.

More on 8 tracks below for those interested in the format.

12:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does anyone know of good places in Los Angeles to buy 8 track tapes? I'm looking!!! if so, e-mail me at:

5:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My husband collected 8 track tapes. He passed away in 2008. I have about 100 tapes. I will inventory them and give you a list if you interested in purchasing. Of course you would have to know the condition and the titles and the price. My email is

3:55 PM  

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